Archive for the 'Microsoft' Category

More fallout from the NSA revelations

[link] Friday, January 24th, 2014

From today’s New York Times

For years, Microsoft has let its customers in Europe, including businesses and organizations, keep their online data close to them. The company operates big data centers in Amsterdam and Dublin for that very purpose.

It now looks as if the company will deepen its commitment to letting those customers decide where their information is stored, at least partly because of concern about spying by the National Security Agency.

In an interview with The Financial Times, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said the company’s customers should be able to “make an informed choice of where their data resides.”

“Technology today requires that people have a high degree of trust in the services they are using ,” he told the paper. “ The events of the last year undermine some of that trust,” he said. “That is one of the reasons new steps are needed to address it.”

Interesting. In some ways, Microsoft is closer to the business community than are Google & Co. They may also be sensitive to the fact that some big European companies (e.g. Siemens) are offering European-based cloud services.

Steve Jobs on what went wrong at Microsoft

[link] Thursday, December 12th, 2013

From one of the last interviews Jobs gave:

I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company. John Akers at IBM was a smart, eloquent, fantastic salesperson, but he didn’t know anything about product. The same thing happened at Xerox. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off. It happened at Apple when Sculley came in, which was my fault, and it happened when Ballmer took over at Microsoft. Apple was lucky and it rebounded, but I don’t think anything will change at Microsoft as long as Ballmer is running it.

Source

Employee #30 leaves the stage

[link] Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Astute Wired comment on Steve Ballmer’s departure (announcement of which increased the value of his Microsoft stock by three quarters of a billion dollars btw):

The 21st century doesn’t look good for the tech giants of the ’80s and ’90s. HP and Dell have lost much of their mojo to more nimble operations in Asia that are now building vast swathes of the hardware that drives the web’s most popular services. Oracle is struggling in the face not only of those hardware upstarts, but also a whole new breed of software makers and web companies offering tools that suit the modern internet in ways Larry Ellison’s aging software never could. And then’s there’s Ballmer and Microsoft, who had even more to lose — and lost it.

In some ways, it’s hard to blame Ballmer. Like HP and Dell and Oracle, Microsoft suffers from the innovator’s dilemma. It built such a successful business on the back of Windows — covering not only the desktop and laptops PCs we all used, but also the computer servers and other hardware that drove the modern corporation — it was difficult for the company to change course without undercutting its own bottom line. And the rise of open source software has hit the company right at the heart of its operation.

It’s notable that perhaps the biggest success of Ballmer’s time at the head of Microsoft, the Xbox video game console, wasn’t build on top of Windows, allowing the console to grow and morph on its own, without having to align itself with the Windows monolith.

Ballmer apocrypha and the irrelevance of Microsoft

[link] Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Apropos my column, Jean-Louis Gasseé has an hilarious spoof Steve Ballmer memo reflecting on how Microsoft screwed up. Worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

For all these years, we scrupulously followed McKinsey’s “Not A Single Crack In The Wall” advice, we’ve managed to successfully Embrace and Extend each and every possible threat to the Windows + Office combo.

While we initially underestimated these new tablets, their threat soon became obvious and we started thinking of ways to protect our franchise. 

That’s when I took the company in the wrong direction. 

To prevent these tablets from penetrating the Office market, I followed our Embrace and Extend strategy and endorsed the creation of hybrid software and hardware: The dual-mode (Desktop and Touch UI) Windows 8 and Surface tablets.

The results are in. Windows 8 hasn’t taken the market by storm. The Windows 8 tablets manufactured by our hardware partners are sitting in warehouses.  We just took a $900M write-off on our RT tablets, now on fire-sale.

It doesn’t matter who actually proposed or implemented the failed strategy, I endorsed it. What matters most — the only thing that matters — is what we’re going to do now.

And while we’re on this topic, Benedict Evans has a very perceptive post arguing that, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that Microsoft peaked in 1995. Excerpt:

Just as overnight success can take a lifetime, so overnight collapse can also take a long time. There are founders creating companies today who weren’t born when people were still actually scared of big bad Micro$oft. It stopped setting the agenda 18 years ago. Windows 95 was the moment of victory, but was also the peak: it came just at the moment that the Internet started taking off, and Microsoft was never a relevant force on the internet despite investing tens of billions of dollars.

But you needed a PC to use the internet, and for almost everyone that PC ran Windows, so Microsoft’s failure to create successful online services didn’t seem to matter. Microsoft survived and thrived in the PC internet era, despite appearing to be irrelevant, by milking its victory in the previous phase of the technology industry. PC sales were 59m units in 1995 and rose to over 350m in 2012. Of course, that’s now coming to an end.

Though it looks like we’ve passed the tipping point, this process isn’t going to be over quickly. PC sales aren’t going to zero this year. But the replacement cycle, already at 5 years, will lengthen further and further, more and more apps will move to mobile or the cloud, and for many people the PC will end up like the printer or fax – vestigial reminders of an older way of doing things. Microsoft may yet manage to turn Windows tablets and phones into products with meaningful market share, but it will never be dominant again.

LATER: Lovely piece in Slate which explains Microsoft’s decline in terms of the storylines of The Wire.

How Microsoft spent a decade asleep at the wheel

[link] Sunday, July 21st, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Coincidentally, in that same year, Gates stepped down from his position as CEO and began the slow process of disengaging from the company. What he failed to notice was that the folks he left in charge, chief among them one Steve Ballmer, were prone to sleeping at the wheel.

How else can one explain the way they failed to notice the importance of (successively) internet search, online advertising, smartphones and tablets until the threat was upon them? Or were they just lulled into somnolence by the sound of the till ringing up continuing sales from the old staples of Windows and Office?

But suddenly, that soothing tinkle has become less comforting. PC sales are starting to decline sharply , which means that Microsoft’s comfort zone is likewise set to shrink. Last week, we had the first indication that Ballmer & Co have woken up. In a 2,700-word internal memo rich in management-speak drivel , Ballmer announced a “far-reaching realignment of the company that will enable us to innovate with greater speed, efficiency and capability in a fast-changing world”.

Google’s choice: between a rock and a very hard place

[link] Sunday, June 9th, 2013

My Observer Comment piece about the dilemma facing Google and the other Internet giants: do they co-operate with the National Security State? Or look after their users’ (and their own commercial) interests?

The revelations of the past week explain why Schmidt was so preoccupied with the power of the state – especially of the national security state, which is what our democracies are morphing into. The apparent contradictions between, on the one hand, Google’s vehement insistence that it has “not joined any programme that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers” and, on the other, the assertions to the contrary in the leaked National Security Agency slide-deck that demonstrate the extent to which Google (and the other internet companies) are caught between a rock and a very hard place.

The rock is that the national security state, as embodied in the National Security Agency, GCHQ and kindred agencies, shows no sign of withering away. Au contraire. In the end, companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple will be compelled to obey the state’s orders. If they don’t, their executives will find themselves sharing jail cells with the likes of Bradley Manning.

The hard place is corporate terror that their users will become alienated by the realisation that personal communications cannot be safely entrusted to internet companies based in the US. Crunch time has arrived for Google & co, in other words. I look forward to the second, revised, edition of Schmidt’s book.

Sic transit gloria mundi

[link] Sunday, January 27th, 2013

This morning’s Observer column.

Nothing lasts forever: if history has any lesson for us, it is this. It’s a thought that comes from rereading Paul Kennedy’s magisterial tome, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, in which he shows that none of the great nation-states or empires of history – Rome; imperial Spain in 1600; France in either its Bourbon or Bonapartist manifestations; the Dutch republic in 1700; Britain in its imperial glory – succeeded in maintaining its global ascendancy for long.

What has this got to do with technology? Well, it provides us with a useful way of thinking about two of the tech world’s great powers.

Microsoft’s Google obsession: a symptom of a deeper problem

[link] Friday, January 4th, 2013

ReadWrite has an interesting piece triggered by the announcement that Google has reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission which avoids the full-on anti-trust suit for which Microsoft (and some others) had been lobbying.

Microsoft had a pretty lousy year in 2012, putting out a string of big products – Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and the Surface tablet – that all turned out to be be disappointing.

But those pale in comparison to what may be the biggest disappointment in Microsoft’s history — its failure to convince antitrust regulators to take action against Google.

After a 19-month investigation and despite much prodding from Microsoft, the Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement with Google that basically amounts to a slap on the wrist.This is a crushing blow to Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and phony grassroots groups over the past several years hoping to land Google in hot water.

Indeed, Microsoft’s obsession with Google doesn’t just border on crazy. It is crazy, and not just a little tiny bit crazy but full-blown, bunny-boiling, Ahab-versus-the-whale nutso.

Yep. One way of interpreting this obsession is that it’s a way of avoiding Microsoft’s central problem — that it isn’t really innovating. (Some people say that it’s never really been an innovator, in the sense that it simply bought innovative companies and incorporated their creations into its own product portfolio.) What’s certainly true is that Microsoft has spent the past 10 years missing out on many of the important trends in the industry (cloud computing, social networking, smartphones, multimedia). In search and mapping its efforts have been respectable but haven’t gained much traction. Only in the XBox3 gaming area has it really looked like an industrial leader. And in its core area — operating systems — it managed one Olympic-class screw-up: Vista.

The intriguing question is how can a rich company stuffed with clever people drop so many balls? One explanation is that it’s just a case of the bureaucratic sclerosis that afflicts all large organisations. An alternative explanation puts it down to lack of technical leadership. Whatever one thinks of Bill Gates, he was a formidable techie who had the respect of many of the geeks who worked for Microsoft in its glory days. But Steve Ballmer, his successor as CEO, is not that kind of guy. He can, perhaps, earn the respect of sales and marketing folks, because, in the end, he’s their kind of guy. To geeks, though, he just looks like another suit — a noisy and belligerent suit, perhaps, but ultimately still an embodiment of The Man.

Barclays buys 8,500 iPads

[link] Saturday, November 24th, 2012

From The Next Web citing The Register.

In what is believed to be one of the biggest rollouts of the iPad in the UK, Barclays Bank is to outfit its staff with more than 8,500 units of the Apple tablet in an effort to improve service levels, The Register reveals.

A Barclays spokesperson confirmed that it was bank employees that demanded the iPad, allowing them “to assist our branch colleagues to interact with customers, improving the customer experience”.

“We investigated a number of different tablet options and in this instance, we concluded that iPads were the best solution for their specific needs. We are now starting to use these across Barclays branches in the UK,” she added.

This is interesting because up to now some observers assumed that one reason the iPad was selling into companies for corporate work was that Microsoft didn’t have a tablet. But now it does, so perhaps this decision by Barclays is actually very significant?

Old combatants, new wars

[link] Sunday, October 28th, 2012

This morning’s Observer column.

This has been quite a week in that strange, frenetic universe known as techworld. Two major companies did things that they once vowed they’d never do: Apple launched a small iPad in order to attack similar-sized devices marketed by its rivals – Samsung, Google and Amazon – and Microsoft launched the first computer it’s ever made (a tablet called Surface). So we have Apple playing catch-up and Microsoft getting into a business – hardware manufacture – it had hitherto wisely avoided.